Trib HSSN 2023-24 WPIAL Class 3A boys basketball preseason breakdown

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Tuesday, November 28, 2023 | 8:30 PM


The four-year reign of district and state dominance ended last season for Our Lady of the Sacred Heart as the 2022-2023 season became the Year of the Deer in Class 3A.

OLSH moved up to 3A last season after winning four straight WPIAL Class 2A championships. However, the Chargers’ run of district titles ended when they lost to Deer Lakes in the 3A finals, 61-60. It was the first boys basketball championship for the Lancers.

Expect this classification to be wide open again this winter.

Here is a rundown of players to watch, top 5 teams and other notables in WPIAL 3A boys basketball this season.

Preseason Player of the Year

Joe Roth, Ellwood City

6-5, Sr., forward, center

30.1 ppg last season

Players to watch

Eli Teslovich, Shady Side Academy

6-1, Sr., guard, 23.0 ppg

Terek Crosby, Yough

6-3, Sr., guard, 21.3 ppg

Mackey Bennis, Burrell

6-2, Sr., guard, 20.9 ppg

Jay Wrona, Mohawk

5-10, Sr., guard, 16.2 ppg

Carter Betz, Brentwood

5-10, Sr., guard, 16.0 ppg

Preseason Top 5

1. Mohawk (20-6)

It was a rough finish to a successful season for the Warriors last year. Following a 19-3 regular season that earned Mohawk a share of the Section 1-3A title with rival Neshannock, the Warriors were knocked off by eventual champion Deer Lakes in the WPIAL quarterfinals, then lost to Seton LaSalle and Yough in district consolation games that ended their season. Coach Mike O’Lare has a lot of experience back, though, led by 5-10 senior guard Jay Wrona and 6-1 sophomore guard Bobby Fadden.

2. Shady Side Academy (17-10)

One game into February last season, the Bulldogs sat at 14-4 and were tied for first place with Deer Lakes in Section 3-3A. Shady Side Academy did share the section crown with the Lancers but lost six of its last nine games, including a WPIAL quarterfinals loss to OLSH and PIAA first-round loss to Franklin. SSA is two years removed from a WPIAL title and is expected to be in the hunt again led by 6-1 senior guard Eli Teslovich, who averaged 23 points per game last season, and 6-2 junior forward Seamus Riordan.

3. Yough (17-10)

Three years ago, the Cougars were in rebuild mode after a three-win season in 2020-2021. That was followed by a 13-win season and a playoff berth in 2021-2022. Then last year was a breakout campaign for Yough, as the Cougars won 17 games, won a WPIAL playoff game and earned a state playoff berth. Now there are high expectations as the team returns two first team all-section players in guard Terek Crosby, who averaged over 21 points a game last season, and 6-5 senior forward Austin Matthews.

4. Deer Lakes (21-9 last season)

Not everybody who helped lead the Lancers to their unexpected golden run last winter is back, but those who return gained valuable experience in what it takes to win it all. Deer Lakes coach Albie Fletcher graduated four seniors. The lone starter returning is 6-2 senior guard Billy Schaeffer. He will be joined by seniors Wayne Love and Aiden Fletcher, 6-4 junior Nathaniel Moore and sophomore Collin Rodgers, who all chipped in with valuable minutes off the Lancers bench last season.

5. Ellwood City (15-8)

The current seniors on the Wolverines basketball team were freshmen in early 2021 as No. 11-seeded Ellwood City stunned the district by winning the WPIAL 3A crown. One of those freshmen hopes to rekindle the magic and find one more golden run before graduating. Joe Roth, a 6-5 senior forward, averaged over 30 points per game last season as the Wolverines finished 15-8 and lost in the district playoffs to eventual champion Deer Lakes.

Notables

• Deer Lakes will be in the hunt for a repeat performance, but history is not on the side of the Lancers. In the last 18 years, only one school has been able to win back-to-back WPIAL championships in Class 3A. Lincoln Park captured 3A district gold in the 2018 and 2019 postseasons. Moon is the only other team to repeat in 3A this century when it won three straight in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart falling to Deer Lakes in the 3A WPIAL finals last season wasn’t the only significant win for the Lancers over the Chargers last season. The greatest run in WPIAL boys basketball history came to an end when OLSH lost to Deer Lakes in late December at the Deer Lakes holiday tournament, 70-55. The Lancers victory snapped the longest winning streak in WPIAL and PIAA boys basketball history at 74. Last season began with the Chargers winning their 69th straight game, breaking the PIAA record of 68 by West Philadelphia in the mid-to-late ’70s.

• Speaking of OLSH, don’t sleep on the purple and gold contending for an eighth straight trip to the WPIAL finals. The Chargers lost a lot from last year’s district runner-up team, but Mike Rodriguez has proven his program can bounce back following key losses to graduation. Senior guards Dorrien Tate and Greg Mineard along with senior forward Dereon Greer will lead the way for OLSH.

Burrell is a team to watch. Senior guard Mackey Bennis averaged over 20 points per game last season and is 200 points shy of hitting 1,000 for his career. … Luke Scarff is only a sophomore, but he was South Park’s leading scorer and rebounder last season as the Eagles will be in the hunt in a tough Section 2. … Speaking of Section 2, Keystone Oaks has three key players back in 6-2 junior Tulio Watts, 6-4 junior Ethan Spivak and 6-2 sophomore Erond Jakupi. … Ruben Gordon was an all-section guard last year as a junior and is the top guy back for perennial power Washington. … Neshannock, Beaver Falls, Seton LaSalle, Steel Valley were hit hard by graduation but have had winning programs in recent years for a reason.

• Some Class 3A anniversaries: One of the best district title games took place 10 years ago when Central Valley upset Chartiers Valley in the 2014 Class 3A finals, 70-69, in double overtime on a free throw from Tony Gates with 0.6 seconds left. … While that was heartbreak city for the Colts, they were celebrating their second straight title 25 years ago when they beat South Park in overtime of the 1998 title game, 57-48. … Farrell captured its fourth WPIAL crown in six year when it defeated South Hills Catholic in 1974, 52-41. … Back in 1948, Ford City captured gold by defeating McKeesport in the 1948 Class 3A finals, 41-30. … Finally, 100 years ago, Homestead won its second straight WPIAL title after beating Monessen, 36-21, in 1924.

Alignment

Section 1: Beaver Falls, Ellwood City, Freedom, Mohawk, Neshannock, New Brighton, Riverside

Section 2: Brentwood, Keystone Oaks, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Seton LaSalle, South Park, Steel Valley, Sto-Rox

Section 3: Apollo-Ridge, Burrell, Deer Lakes, Derry, Ligonier Valley, Shady Side Academy, Valley

Section 4: Brownsville, Charleroi, McGuffey, Mt. Pleasant, Washington, Waynesburg, Yough

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